Colorado

TCAP reading results reveal trends

Nearly three-fourths of Colorado third-graders are reading at grade level, a slight increase that matches the highest proficiency mark achieved in the past ten years, according to results released Wednesday.

A student at work in Sheridan's Fort Logan Elementary, where Wednesday's results show third-grade reading scores are on the rise.

Results of the first administration of the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, which is replacing the Colorado Student Assessment Program as the state shifts to new academic standards, show 73.9 percent of third-graders scored proficient or advanced.

Proficiency rates have hovered between 70 and 74 percent since at least 2003.

That leaves 25 percent of the state’s third-graders – more than 16,000 mostly 9-year-olds – struggling to master basic literacy skills.

More boys than girls need literacy help as third-grade tests provide the first look at a reading gender gap that persists through high school. A seven-point gap separates girls from boys on the 2012 third-grade exam; the most recent tenth-grade exams revealed a 13-point divide.

Gaps are similarly revealed by income and ethnicity on the third-grade reading tests, with 26 points separating students eligible for federal lunch aid and their more affluent peers. And 25-point gaps divide Hispanic and black students from their white classmates.

Those gaps have been cited in recent legislative debates about a literacy bill but the bill is not linked to statewide exams. Instead, the bill – approved Wednesday by state lawmakers – calls for existing early childhood literacy tests to assess whether third-graders meet a “significant reading deficiency” standard to be set by the State Board.

Highs and lows among schools

Some familiar school names show up at both ends of the spectrum in gains and declines on the TCAP results.

Center’s Haskin Elementary, recently profiled by EdNews, saw its scores rise 35 percentage points in a single year, from 41 percent of students achieving reading proficiency to 76 percent.

Haskin Elementary Principal Kathy Kulp works after school with students as part of an intense literacy focus in the Center School District.

The 310-student school in the rural San Luis Valley is wrapping up its second year of a three-year, $1.6 million federal School Improvement Grant, awarded to the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

Last year’s scores also saw a big jump, from 28 percent proficiency to 41 percent.

Center Superintendent George Welsh, a key player in the recent Lobato school funding lawsuit, said the results show more money spent well can make a difference.

“I think the results we are achieving are a real life indication that a significant infusion of dollars, spent wisely in targeted areas, can produce the kinds of results the state has striven for through the education system it has designed,” he said.

“Without the training and resource opportunities that were afforded to us through our turnaround grant, we would probably still be where we were in 2010 when only 28 percent of our third-graders could read at grade level.”

Part of Center’s federal funding went to Lindamood-Bell, a for-profit company focused on intensive literacy training, including implementing summer and after-school academies for struggling readers. The company moved a trainer into Center for 18 months.

At the other end of the spectrum, Denver’s Beach Court Elementary saw its third-grade scores drop by 25 to 38 percentage points on the English and Spanish-language reading exams over the past two years.

“The district regularly reviews all test scores for any signs of unusual patterns and takes the necessary follow-up action.”
— Mike Vaughn, DPS

Beach Court, a high-poverty neighborhood school in Northwest Denver, has been publicly lauded over the years for its high performance.

This year’s, 40 percent of the school’s third-graders scored proficient or advanced on the English exam, down from 78 percent last year and 85 percent the year before. On the Spanish version, the proficiency rate was 48 percent, down from 73 percent in 2011 and 92 percent in 2010.

Beach Court’s veteran principal, Frank Roti, did not return a call seeking comment.

“The district regularly reviews all test scores for any signs of unusual patterns and takes the necessary follow-up action,” DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said.

Asked if the district sent monitors to Beach Court during TCAP testing this year, Vaughn responded that monitors were in “a couple dozen schools” to ensure “proper testing procedures” were followed.

He said he did not know if Beach Court was among them and declined additional comment.

Results of school reform efforts

In terms of growth, Center’s Haskin led all 14 of Colorado’s SIG elementary schools – meaning they’re the recipients of federal grants after having been deemed among the lowest-performing in the U.S.

But Westminster Elementary in the Adams 50 Westminster school district wasn’t far behind, with a 34-point gain over last year.

Five other SIG schools also posted double-digit gains in 2012; only one SIG school, Mapleton’s Meadow Community School, saw a decline.

Sheridan’s Fort Logan Elementary, another SIG school recently profiled by EdNews, continued its gradual but steady increase. Its reading proficiency rate grew to 52 percent, up 7 points in the past two years.

Nathaniel Stuart, a student at Sheridan's Fort Logan Elementary, focuses on literacy.

Denver Public Schools touted gains at several schools undergoing major reforms, including two receiving federal SIG grants.

At West Denver’s Greenlee Elementary, part of a contentious 2009 reform proposal, third-graders posted a 21-point gain over last year. Fifty-five percent of third-graders were reading at grade level on this year’s exams.

Greenlee’s principal was replaced in fall 2010 when a new literacy program was adopted. The school also was restructured, shifting from a K-8 to an elementary school.

In Far Northeast Denver, two elementary schools that were part of another controversial reform plan approved in 2011, also saw gains.

Both Green Valley and McGlone elementaries saw 17-point increases in third-grade reading proficiency over last year.  Reform efforts at those schools included the requirement that teachers reapply for their jobs this past fall.

Another Denver school reform effort, the teacher-led Math and Science Leadership Academy, also saw strong gains. MSLA third-graders nearly doubled their reading proficiency, from 24 percent to 52 percent.

School district ups and downs

DPS continued to lead the state’s largest districts in reading proficiency growth, with 59 percent of third-graders performing at grade level.

That’s the highest result achieved by the district since state testing began, according to a press release.

Results from the state’s ten largest districts ranged from a 3-point bump in Denver to a 2-point drop in Fort Collins.

Rankings for the big ten districts align closely, though not completely, with poverty rates – Boulder and Douglas County, with poverty below 20 percent, produced the highest scores. Denver and Aurora, with poverty rates topping 65 percent, produced the lowest scores.

Among all metro-area districts, Adams 50 Westminster had the biggest single-year gain.

The district, which has eliminated traditional grade levels and advances students based on proficiency, saw its third-grade reading scores increase six points, from 41 percent proficiency to 47 percent.

Littleton Public Schools produced the highest results of all metro-area districts, with an 88 percent proficiency rate. Its growth also continues, improving six points since 2010.

Trends evident in the TCAP results: Fewer students taking Spanish-language exams and small districts reporting no public results because they have few test-takers.

Another district of interest, the state Charter School Institute, saw its overall third-grade proficiency rate decline eight points, from 77 percent to 69 percent.

Two other trends are evident in the TCAP results, with fewer students taking Spanish-language exams and small districts reporting no public results because they have few test-takers.

Colorado state exams are available in Spanish only in grades 3 and 4. The number of third-graders taking the Spanish version of the reading tests has declined from 1,500 in 2008 to 1,200 in 2012.

And the number of Colorado school districts with no public test scores – meaning they have fewer than 16 third-graders taking the state exams – continues its gradual climb. The state doesn’t report scores for fewer numbers because of privacy concerns.

In 2011 and 2012, 48 of the state’s 182 districts reported fewer than 16 young test-takers. This year, the Agate school district reported a single third-grader. In 2010, 44 districts had no public third-grade scores.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede